August 4, 2019
I’ve wondered a lot about this sermon, the last I will preach as your Curate here at St. Mark’s. Today isn’t my last Sunday, I’ll still be here next week to bid you all farewell, but Adam has returned from his sabbatical. Next week he’ll return to this pulpit and I’ll go back to my normal chair.
But I have today. I have these few minutes with all of you and I’ve wondered, what should I say?
And then the events of the last 24 hours unfolded—two mass shootings, one in El Paso and one in Dayton. Twenty-nine people dead and at least forty-two injured as of this morning.
I awoke to the news of the second shooting this morning and wondered—do I toss the sermon I had prepared; shift gears and address the issue head on?
And then I realized, what I had planned on sharing with you all this morning is still a critical response to the violence, hatred, and oppression that seem to be exploding in our world.
Today, I’m going to tell you a story—my story—because stories transform us.
When we listen to the stories of others and contemplate how their story intersects with ours, our empathy and compassion for people “not like us” grows, because we realize they are, in fact, “people, like us.”
So. As you listen I hope it will inspire you to both consider your own story and to stop and take the time to listen to other people’s stories. Because, our stories matter.
I was born in St. Louis, Missouri into a family with deep roots in the evangelical church. My parents and grandparents had all attended the same Southern Baptist church for decades and my earliest memories center around that church, playing hide-and-go-seek in the pews after church and making popsicle-stick creations in Sunday School.
But, time passed and, as is true for so many churches today, attendance shrank and eventually the church closed. After some searching we found a new church—another Southern Baptist church, which became my second home. If the doors of the church were open, I was there. I served in children’s ministry, took on roles in the annual Christmas and Easter pageants, I participated in, and eventually became a leader in the youth group.
And yet, despite my passion, enthusiasm, and, in hindsight, pretty obvious calling to ministry, my future in the evangelical church was limited. Women cannot be ordained in the Southern Baptist denomination, or in many other evangelical denominations. With the door to ministry seemingly shut, I headed off to college and began a wandering journey through five majors in five years, trying to find my place. After a short misadventure in Denver, working with a failing church plant, I finally managed to graduate college with a degree in history and landed a well-paying job as a graphic artist at the University. And yet, God’s call to ministry still whispered in my heart and mind.
While in college, I had begun attending an unusual church that described itself as “seeker-focused”. Through the use of popular music, the visual arts, movies, theater, and cutting-edge technology, the church sought to reach out to people and invite them to encounter God in a new way.
I started out as a volunteer in the children and youth ministries, however I was quickly snatched up by the Creative Arts Team and eventually offered a full-time position as a technical assistant.
That began almost ten years of ministry with a team that encouraged my gifts and my calling and showed me what it was to love the lost and the hurting deeply. There, I tapped into my artistic side and created huge sets and elaborate lighting displays for the weekend services; all designed to help people encounter God and experience God’s deep love.
It was during my time at this church that I met and fell in love with Zach. We got married, bought a little house in a Missouri river town, and settled in, or so we thought, for the “long haul.” Except God has different plans. We both were uneasy—unhappy in our jobs and unsettled in our life as it was. We talked and prayed, and realized God was calling us both to something new.
So after only a year in our little house by the river, we packed up and moved to Minnesota. There I began seminary, with the spoken goal of becoming a professor of the Hebrew Bible.
Our time in Minnesota was one of the most painful and growth-inducing experiences I’ve ever had. My world as I had known it, one viewed through the lens of the conservative, evangelical church, was crumbling. I was introduced to new ideas and new ways to encounter God and Scripture, and I met a group of women, each called by God to serve as pastors and priests, who inspired me—and honestly, frightened me. I was scared, because somewhere, deep inside, I must have known God was calling me to be a pastor too.
As I struggled with God and with myself in Minnesota, an image formed in my mind and heart—the image of the church I sensed would be home. The image was crystal clear, and one tear-filled evening in Minnesota I described to Zach what I was so desperately looking for, but just couldn’t seem to find. Here is what I saw…
The building is small, nothing like the massive mega-churches I had spent most of my adult life serving in. It’s wood-shingled exterior is painted white and yet still showed its age in places. It didn’t look “old”, but lived in, or better yet, prayed in. There were simple stained glass windows and wooden pews. The white-washed interior was bright and welcoming, inviting you to sit and breathe in the presence of God. The doors stood open wide, welcoming anyone who passed by into the sunlight space and a holy calm spread over the church like a cool breeze on a hot day.
It was five years before I set foot into that church—in the meantime we moved to Connecticut, and I spent much of my time wrestling with God about my calling, before being brought to my knees by Zach, who asked, “Are you sure God isn’t calling you to be a priest and you’re just not listening?”
And then came the day, when, as a postulant seeking a church to intern at four years ago, I set foot into St. Mark’s wood-shingled building, with its white-washed interior, simple stained glass, and wooden pews.
And I knew, I’d found a home again.